Apropos Shakespeare · mini-review · stuff I read

Brutus and Other Heroines: Playing Shakespeare’s Roles for Women by Harriet Walter

33310390._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
‘A part we have played is like a person we once met, grew to know, became intimately enmeshed with and finally moved away from. Some of these characters remain friends, others are like ex–lovers with whom we no longer have anything in common. All of them bring something out in us that will never go back in the box.’

In a varied and distinguished career, Harriet Walter has played almost all of Shakespeare’s heroines, notably Ophelia, Helena, Portia, Viola, Imogen, Lady Macbeth, Beatrice and Cleopatra, mostly for the Royal Shakespeare Company. But where, she asks, does an actress go after playing Cleopatra’s magnificent death? Why didn’t Shakespeare write more – and more powerful – roles for mature women?

For Walter, the solution was to ignore the dictates of centuries of tradition, and to begin playing the mature male characters. Her Brutus in an all–female Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse was widely acclaimed, and was soon followed by Henry IV. What, she asks, can an actress bring to these roles – and is there any fundamental difference in the way they must be played?

In Brutus and Other Heroines, Walter discusses each of these roles – both male and female – from the inside, explaining the particular choices she made in preparing and performing each character. Her extraordinarily perceptive and intimate accounts illuminate each play as a whole, offering a treasure trove of valuable insights for theatregoers, scholars and anyone interested in how the plays work on stage. Aspiring actors, too, will discover the many possibilities open to them in playing these magnificent roles.

The book is an exploration of the Shakespearean canon through the eyes of a self-identified ‘feminist actor’ – but, above all, a remarkable account of an acting career unconstrained by tradition or expectations. It concludes with an affectionate rebuke to her beloved Will: ‘I cannot imagine a world without you. I just wish you had put more women at the centre of your world/stage… I would love you to come back and do some rewrites.’

4.5 stars. Some of the earlier chapters of Brutus and Other Heroines, which were drawn from other pieces she wrote for various publications, etc., felt undeveloped. But the later chapters created specifically for this collection are amazing in giving us a peek inside how an actor develops a character – and specifically a character that has been played so many times by so many other actors. I always enjoy Harriet Walter in anything I’ve seen her in so this was a delight to read.

And if you can catch it, the Julius Caesar where she plays Brutus is phenomenal. I haven’t seen the Henry IV (or Tempest, which she doesn’t get into) yet but I hope I can.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

stuff I read

Homie by Danez Smith

44094014Summary from Goodreads:
Homie is Danez Smith’s magnificent anthem about the saving grace of friendship. Rooted in the loss of one of Smith’s close friends, this book comes out of the search for joy and intimacy within a nation where both can seem scarce and getting scarcer. In poems of rare power and generosity, Smith acknowledges that in a country overrun by violence, xenophobia, and disparity, and in a body defined by race, queerness, and diagnosis, it can be hard to survive, even harder to remember reasons for living. But then the phone lights up, or a shout comes up to the window, and family—blood and chosen—arrives with just the right food and some redemption. Part friendship diary, part bright elegy, part war cry, Homie is the exuberant new book written for Danez and for Danez’s friends and for you and for yours.

I picked up Homie a few months ago at Brandon’s reading for Real Life and WOW. Such beautiful flow and rhythm to the poems and they’re arranged so well into the book. Definitely going to back up and get their earlier volume of work.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In by Phuc Tran

45046838Summary from Goodreads:
For anyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong, Sigh, Gone shares an irreverent, funny, and moving tale of displacement and assimilation woven together with poignant themes from beloved works of classic literature.

In 1975, during the fall of Saigon, Phuc Tran immigrates to America along with his family. By sheer chance they land in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a small town where the Trans struggle to assimilate into their new life. In this coming-of-age memoir told through the themes of great books such as The Metamorphosis, The Scarlet Letter, The Iliad, and more, Tran navigates the push and pull of finding and accepting himself despite the challenges of immigration, feelings of isolation, and teenage rebellion, all while attempting to meet the rigid expectations set by his immigrant parents.

Appealing to fans of coming-of-age memoirs such as Fresh Off the Boat, Running with Scissors, or tales of assimilation like Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Displaced and The Refugees, Sigh, Gone explores one man’s bewildering experiences of abuse, racism, and tragedy and reveals redemption and connection in books and punk rock. Against the hairspray-and-synthesizer backdrop of the ‘80s, he finds solace and kinship in the wisdom of classic literature, and in the subculture of punk rock, he finds affirmation and echoes of his disaffection. In his journey for self-discovery Tran ultimately finds refuge and inspiration in the art that shapes—and ultimately saves—him.

Sigh, Gone is a solid memoir about how punk music, skate culture, and books helped an immigrant kid from Viet Nam find community in Pennsylvania. It is a little bit hard to read in places since Tran does recount instances of terrifying physical abuse from adults in his family. I also wish he’d gone a bit further in the book and added his college years, since I thought that would have been interesting to see how his reading “curriculum” changed.

Fun fact: I own two editions of The Lifetime Reading Plan, the original and an updated edition edited by Fadiman’s daughter.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (The Kiss Quotient #2)

39338454._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.

It’s taken multiple attempts to get through The Bride Test. It was very hard to get past how Khai, who has autism spectrum disorder, is treated by his family – as someone who needs to be “fixed” (I think his brother Quan and cousin Michael, who was the hero of The Kiss Quotient, might be the only two close family members who don’t treat Khai like that). And the way his mom decides to “fix” him is to get him a bride from Vietnam. It’s really, really awkward and not in a good way. I liked Khai and Esme a lot as characters, particularly how Esme is so determined to get herself and her daughter a better life, but a lot of the stuff around them was hard to read.

Dear FTC: I had a galley but it expired so I had to buy a copy.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai (Modern Love #2)

44148565Summary from Goodreads:
In Alisha Rai’s second novel in her Modern Love series, a live-tweet event goes viral for a camera-shy ex-model, shoving her into the spotlight—and into the arms of the bodyguard she’d been pining for.

OMG! Wouldn’t it be adorable if he’s her soulmate???

I don’t see any wedding rings [eyes emoji]

Breaking: #CafeBae and #CuteCafeGirl went to the bathroom AT THE SAME TIME!!!

One minute, Katrina King’s enjoying an innocent conversation with a hot guy at a coffee shop; the next, a stranger has live-tweeted the entire episode with a romantic meet-cute spin and #CafeBae is the new hashtag-du-jour. The problem? Katrina craves a low-profile life, and going viral threatens the peaceful world she’s painstakingly built. Besides, #CafeBae isn’t the man she’s hungry for…

He’s got a [peach emoji] to die for.

With the internet on the hunt for the identity of #CuteCafeGirl, Jas Singh, bodyguard, friend, and possessor of the most beautiful eyebrows Katrina’s ever seen, comes to the rescue and whisks her away to his family’s home. Alone in a remote setting with the object of her affections? It’s a recipe for romance. But after a long dating dry spell, Katrina isn’t sure she can trust her instincts when it comes to love—even if Jas’ every look says he wants to be more than just her bodyguard…

Welcome to The Bodyguard: Extreme Pining Edition.

Seriously, this book needs a Whitney Houston soundtrack.

Girl Gone Viral is a very (very) slow-burn romance with much mutual pining between a woman with severe anxiety/panic disorder (with maybe a little agoraphobia/PTSD) and her bodyguard/head of security (who is ex-military and definitely has PTSD). So much pining. All the pining – and that possibly awkward she’s-been-his-boss-for-years thing. Kat and Jas are two of the nicest, sweetest cinnamon-rolliest people (even though Jas could probably break you in half) who totally deserve each other. What I really liked in this book is that Rai gave them each some personal issues that couldn’t be solved by talking about their feelings and tackling the #cafebae issue. Kat has an awful, awful dad while an incident from Jas’s military past comes back to haunt him. That makes their romance very true-to-life. You don’t get to deal with one issue at a time, you have to juggle it all at once, the good and the bad.

Now, if you’ve read a lot of Rai’s previous books, Girl Gone Viral has a much lower “steam” level by comparison. No sexytimes until about 60% through the book and even those are much less in-depth, shall we say. It fits with Kat and Jas, though. They’re sweet and thoughtful and very private characters. They are not Livy and Nicholas from Hate to Want You, secretly hooking up once a year for ten years and having raw, can’t-get-you-out-of-my-system sex, or even Jackson and Sadia from Wrong to Need You who are also “extreme pining edition” but real dirty-talkers. If you like shagging early and often in your romances, be prepared this one’s going to be mild.

Girl Gone Viral is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby

49960031Summary from Goodreads:
A new essay collection from Samantha Irby about aging, marriage, settling down with step-children in white, small-town America.

Irby is turning forty, and increasingly uncomfortable in her own skin. She has left her job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, has published successful books and is courted by Hollywood, left Chicago, and moved into a house with a garden that requires repairs and know-how with her wife and two step-children in a small white, Republican town in Michigan where she now hosts book clubs. This is the bourgeois life of dreams. She goes on bad dates with new friends, spends weeks in Los Angeles taking meetings with “skinny, luminous peoples” while being a “cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person,” “with neck pain and no cartilage in [her] knees,” and hides Entenmann’s cookies under her bed and unopened bills under her pillow.

New Samantha Irby essays! Wow, No Thank You. is a group of personal essays that are much more “current” as opposed to some of her previous collections. And what I mean by that is that more of the topics appear to stem from events that happen now – working in LA as a writer on Shrill, learning to step-parent (a little bit), moving from Chicago to Michigan with her wife. That’s not to say she’s done with using her childhood experiences as topics, it’s just that they’ve shifted, less autobiographical and more “this is how growing up poor and Black impacts how I manage money now as a forty-something pretend-adult” and “I haven’t had a lot of breaks and all of a sudden I’m writing for Lindy West’s TV show and WTF is happening.” All in that signature Sam Irby, dry-as-the-Midwest-in-week-12-of-a-drought, self-deprecating style. I loved the mix-tape essay.

I read this essays one or two at a time at night before bed, once the book was out (and once I had obtained it from my store since we had just closed to in-store shopping due to COVID-19 and hadn’t quite worked out curbside or anything). Because I wasn’t fancy enough to get a galley.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book because duh.

stuff I read

The Art of Making Memories: How to Create and Remember Happy Moments by Meik Wiking

43453744Summary from Goodreads:
What’s the actual secret to happiness? Great memories! Meik Wiking—happiness researcher and New York Times bestselling author of The Little Book of Hygge and The Little Book of Lykke—shows us how to create memories that make life sweet in this charming book.

Do you remember your first kiss? The day you graduated? Your favorite vacation? Or the best meal you ever had?

Memories are the cornerstones of our identity, shaping who we are, how we act, and how we feel. In his work as a happiness researcher, Meik Wiking has learned that people are happier if they hold a positive, nostalgic view of the past. But how do we make and keep the memories that bring us lasting joy?

The Art of Making Memories examines how mental images are made, stored, and recalled in our brains, as well as the “art of letting go”—why we tend to forget certain moments to make room for deeper, more meaningful ones. Meik uses data, interviews, global surveys, and real-life experiments to explain the nuances of nostalgia and the different ways we form memories around our experiences and recall them—revealing the power that a “first time” has on our recollections, and why a piece of music, a smell, or a taste can unexpectedly conjure a moment from the past. Ultimately, Meik shows how we each can create warm memories that will stay with us for years.

Combining his signature charm with Scandinavian forthrightness, filled with infographics, illustrations, and photographs, and featuring “Happy Memory Tips,” The Art of Making Memories is an inspiration meditation and practical handbook filled with ideas to help us make the memories that will bring us joy throughout our lives.

I received a copy of The Art of Making Memories for review last fall (sorry so late, but thanks William Morrow!) and decided that now (yay, COVID-19 isolation, ugh thanks I hate it) would be a good time to give it a read.

This is a very pretty book that uses psychological and neurological research – presented in an easy-to-read format – to suggest ways to remember our good memories. So it’s much less “here are prescribed kinds of memories you should make” and much more “this is how we remember things and how you can use these tools to remember things that make you happy, particularly as you’re making new memories”. So Moonwalking on Einstein but instead of remembering reams of information, it’s remembering life events.

Dear FTC: I received a review copy from the publisher.

stuff I read

Sasha in Good Taste: Recipes for Bites, Feasts, Sips & Celebrations by Sasha Pieterse

43521336._SX318_Summary from Goodreads:
From Sasha Pieterse, the star of Pretty Little Liars, an inspiring and delectable full-color guide to cooking, baking, DIY, and embracing the joy of entertaining.

Welcome to the party!

Sasha Pieterse has had a passion for food and entertaining practically from birth. In Sasha in Good Taste, she shares her flair for the festive with a collection of her favorite recipes, décor ideas, and tips and tricks for throwing the ultimate party for any occasion. Covering every aspect of party planning, from budgeting to creating a menu to fun DIY projects to help set the mood, Sasha in Good Taste includes:

SAVORY RECIPES: Burrata Meatballs, Stuffed Jalapeños, Whipped Ricotta Cheese Toast, yum . . .
SWEET BITES: Whiskey Cupcakes, Adult Cookies and Milk, Churro Bowls, oh my!
CURATED COCKTAILS: With “polite,” “sassy,” and nonalcoholic options
PARTY IDEAS: From Cigar Bars to Paint Parties to Friendsgiving, and much more
Inside you’ll find everything you need to throw the party of your dreams.

I was offered a review copy of Sasha in Good Taste by the publisher back in, oh, October, I think? And I said yes because I could use a new cookbook to try out. And it looked very pretty.

It’s a pretty disappointing cookbook. Many recipes are unimaginative and simplistic (avocado toast, really? “sammies,” really???) and comprise only about 50% of the book. The other 50% is comprised of party-planning advice and very pretty, stylized photos. So this definitely leans toward the Pinterest-ready, Instagram-influencer who likes to throw parties crowd . Which is not my crowd (and I haven’t really seen any shows this actress has been in either). The best recipes are for the alcoholic drinks.

The optics in this book are also kind of bad. Pieterse is nagging people about aspartame and BHA and other food additives and how they’re really bad for you (because cancer!) in an early section and then suggests how to throw a cigar party later in the book. I’d like to remind her about lip, tongue, and throat cancer, which you’re at risk of from smoking cigars (hi, I’m an epidemiologist – I’m not real big on the questionable continued use of many food additives but she doesn’t follow through with any good research for this book; it has a very heavy whiff of being on the Goop cruise so the inclusion of a cigar party complete with smoking photos is a real head-scratcher).

Borrow this one from the library if you want to check it out before buying.

Dear FTC: I received a review copy from the publisher.